Opinion: Democracy, human rights and respect: Big lessons to be learned from a small meeting

Opinion: Last Saturday  night’s meeting with candidates in Ōtāhuhu showed that some people have a long way to go when it comes to mastering the basics of democracy.

Members of the Tongan community in Auckland meeting with the candidates last Saturday in Ōtāhuhu. Photo/Kalino Lātū (Kaniva Tonga)

Tongans know all too well how long and hard the struggle was to install democracy in Tonga and how bitterly those reforms were fought by the old guard.

They only have to look over the seas to Fiji to see a strong Pacific nation that faced years of coups or to Papua New Guinea where corruption and political violence  are a way of life.

In New Zealand, things are different. In New Zealand universal human rights are respected and there is democracy and free and open elections in which every eligible person can participate. That is something to cherish.

Unfortunately,  it seems some people still need to know this if they want to be properly part of New Zealand life.

One way to show how much they appreciate the gift of democracy is for people to show respect for it.

On Saturday night some people used the evening to ignore the agenda and push their own ideas without considering what was at stake.

The meeting was meant to give everybody the chance to hear what candidates had to say and to ask questions. However, some people at the meeting took up the question time by thanking their favourite politicians for coming and demonstrating their political loyalty.

That used up the time when people could have been finding out more about the candidates’ policies and intentions.

People living in New Zealand need to understand what a gift it is to be able to meet candidates openly and to be able to ask questions. That is not something that happens everywhere. Our readers will know that in Tonga there have been complaints about how such meetings are conducted, with allegations of political figures manipulating the proceedings.

Democracy is a gift and it’s one that should be treasured and shared, even by doing something as simple as not wasting question time at a meeting.

Candidates also need to know how to use these meetings wisely.

Saturday’s meeting was not the first time we have seen candidates use the time simply to attack Labour candidates and their supporters.

As we reported yesterday, the Labour Party has always been strongly favoured by voters from Pasifika backgrounds. While there are no exact figures to show how many Tongans vote Labour, it is still popular in our community.

In the past we have seen some parties putting up Tongan candidates against sitting Labour members. There were even claims that one candidate somehow had royal approval, but that did not help him.

It is natural that opposition parties will attack the government, but if that is all they do, they will not succeed. People will listen to ideas and proposals, but do not respond well to a barrage of negativity.

Instead of just attacking, why don’t these candidates come and tell the community the benefits they will receive if they choose their parties rather than disappointing Labour supporters?

If they made use of that one hour meeting to explain their policies well and their benefits to listeners some Labour supporters might convert and vote for them instead.

Two other issues stood out from Saturday night.

One was that people need to understand that referendums are  part of the political process in New Zealand. The two referendums being voted for are being presented as part of the election. One is from ACT and the other is from the Greens and they did not have universal support from Labour MPs.

However, the government will have to accept whatever the results of the vote will be.

Many people may oppose the two referendums, but if they pass, they have to be accepted. It’s part of the process of democracy and the recognition of universal human rights that goes with it.

The other issue is that some church leaders and their activists need to understand democracy better.

A pastor told Labour Member for Manukau East Jenny Salesa during the meeting that he was really concerned about the passing in Parliament of the End of Life Act. He said only God could decide when life should be ended.

After the Second World War II the United Nations issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to guide its member states on how to respect people’s rights and build strong democracies. In countries like New Zealand those rights form part of the political culture of the country.

The Declaration is the only document that can serve everyone equally no matter what political, cultural, and religious beliefs they have. Religions cannot serve everyone equally because they differ in their beliefs.

To have candidates and their supporters attacking Labour because they claim they are against Tongan values and Christianity faith is not wise. After all, there are Tongans who are Muslims or Bahai.

Saturday night’s meeting was a small part in the bigger picture of this year’s national elections in New Zealand, but it raised big issues that some people still need to learn.

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